The stage is sometimes synonymous with the star and 12 months ago Jordan Spieth dared to pull off one of the most thrilling comebacks in sporting history. An afterthought entering the final round of The Masters nine shots back, the golden boy of American golf caught fire, blazing nine birdies to stand on the 17th tee with a share of the lead at Augusta.
But the light dimmed on the home straight: a par-bogey finish denying us the unimaginable as Patrick Reed held on. In the aftermath, Spieth unravelled, though he concedes the signs were there before at the end of 2017. The azaleas briefly saw him snap out of his lull for that exhilarating run at the Green Jacket before his bad habit consumed his game.
“For me it was physical, it started with the putter blade, how I was viewing things, my alignment got off because my eyes were not seeing where the blade was pointed, so I couldn’t trust it,” Spieth explained on the No Laying Up podcast.
“It then bled into my full swing and I got off in set up. I’d try and fix the wrong things, I got down this spiral of more inconsistent golf. I have been shooting five-under and then four-over.
“I haven’t shot this many rounds over one-over par since I was 15 or 16 years old. I had to time the club better, I played with little rotation.”
It has been a process that has seen the 25-year-old admit to putting in significantly more practice in the last year than at any time over his career, including when he captured The Masters and the US Open in a breathtaking 2015 to spark whispers that he might seize Tiger Wood’s throne and dominate for a decade.
After barking at his caddie Michael Greller to “go get that (ball)” following a seismic eagle to inspire victory at Royal Birkdale and a third major in 2017, Spieth tumbled down the rankings. He finished the 2018 17th in the world rankings, bombed out of the play-offs to miss the Tour Championship and saw his once magic wand of a putter defy him to finish 123rd in strokes gained putting.
What was previously deemed a ‘cheat code’ against his rivals had now vanished, so Spieth went to work on fixing his alignment, conjuring up a meticulous plan that has recently displayed ominous signs of his former self. Back-to-back rounds of 68 last week at the Valero Texas Open, though eventually fading to finish tied-30th, showed a second Green Jacket this week is now conceivable.
“My expectations are high this week,” Spieth admitted. “I feel great about the state of my game right now.
“I feel like my recent results aren’t a tell of where my game is actually at and I feel I’ve made a lot of strides in the last couple of days off the tee, which has been the only separation from being able to win golf tournaments over the last month or so.
“It’s just a matter of trust in the stuff that I’m working on and I don’t feel like I have to play well. I don’t feel like there’s any added pressure this week. I feel kind of under the radar, which is really nice.”
For his rivals that leaves Spieth dangerously poised, given his pedigree: most birdies/eagles per round since 2010 (5.2, with Justin Rose a distant second at 4.5), most strokes gained per round with at least 20 rounds (3.26 – Ben Hogan second with 2.52) and the lowest average major championship score over the past five years (70.15).
Spieth is “the smartest guy in the game,” according to Eddie Pepperell, and re-watched his final round in 2015 this week, “commentating to his team” as he re-imagined what was possible in this part of Georgia.
Those memories may yet stir him this week, confirming Augusta may truly be Spieth’s own amphitheatre.
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